I’m all about the Cyclechic movement to encourage people to ride bicycles in regular clothes. Since I like vintage clothes, I personally take it a bit further and try to put together interesting, somewhat noticeable outfits for my daily trips around Milwaukee by bike. I hope that by drawing a bit of attention to myself some people will say to themselves “Hey, if he can bike in that outfit, I can bike in jeans, dockers, flannel or whatever.” The idea is that the more we normalize cycling as a practical mode of transportation, the more people will give it a try for short trips instead of jumping in the car.
The Cyclechic movement is certainly catching on. The fashion industry has glommed onto bicycles as much as the bike industry has glommed onto fashion. The cross polination has resulted in articles in as diverse publications as the Wall Street Journal and the Ralph Lauren Magazine. Certainly using attractive people to sell products is as old as the marketing game itself, but because bikes have been marketed as recreation and sport for the last few decades, the return to traditional “sex sells” campaigns may hit a few snags before the mad men touch just the pressure points for the target audience.
These 1972 Schwinn advertisements, for all their dated fashion, are right on target. Regular people in regular clothes riding practical bicycles to go places.
Like all good things, “sexy” should be used in moderation outside the privacy of your bedroom. When advertisers cross the line from “attractive” or “seductive” to “raunchy” they leave the realm of “sexy” and cross over into the “sexist zone.” I don’t have a problem with people who have a fondness for Russ Meyers cult films and 50s sexploitation dime novel cover art, but that stuff will never work as mainstream marketing images. As much as I wanted to like Huffy’s “Moms on Bikes” campaign, the more I look at the images, the more I think they crossed over the line from seductive to creepy.
According to Huffy’s marketing research, 75% of all bikes are bought by women buying bicycles for the whole family. I’m not sure I buy those numbers. I’d like to run them past the National Bicycle Dealers Association. I would also like to have been a fly on the wall when Huffy’s agency Brunner did the focus groups for this campaign. Who were the women in those rooms that said these ads would make them go out an buy a bike? Now I don’t think these ads are totally sexist or blatantly raunchy, but they do draw more on the Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill/Real Housewives of New Jersey image than they do on the June Cleaver/Soccer Mom image Schwinn used in 1972. While many moms may actually watch (un)Real Housewives of NYC, I very much doubt the many of them identify with the characters. I think the fascination is more like the gapers block at a car crash. You know it could be terrible, but you can’t help but look.
I have written in depth on OTB about the disperity between the number of men who ride bicycles for transportation and the number of women. I believe that part of the reason women don’t ride is because they think they cannot wear dresses, heels or maintain their hairstyles on a bike. Men have similar beliefs, but to a lesser degree. In countries with equal percentages of men and women riding bicycles for transportation, you see people pedaling in regular clothes and very few in lycra bike outfits.
On OTB, I frequently use images of attractive women and men riding bicycles in normal to fancy clothes, including heels and skirts to break the image of bicycles as recreational toys or sporting goods. Because I am a man who occasionally uses images of women to market cycling, I make a very conscious effort to portray women in an attractive, but intelligent manner. Maybe because I have an impressionable 15-year-old daughter I am overly cautious in this regard, or maybe it is because my personal tastes lean more toward June Cleaver in an apron than the Snooki Polizzi in a halter top side of the female spectrum.
I’d like to know what my female readers think. Did Huffy go too far? Are these MOB ads sexist or just all in good fun?